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Railroad in Hunters Point gives rise to Long Island City

TimesLedger Newspapers is proud to introduce Queensline, a new biweekly series celebrating Queens events as compiled by the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

In September 1853, the Flushing Railroad directors made a decision that would forever change western Queens. Instead of terminating the railroad in Williamsburg or Greenpoint as originally planned, they chose the low sand hills and marsh of Hunters Point.

The Brooklyn option had become complicated. Overriding their mayor's veto, the Williamsburg city council listened to residents' concerns and all but banned the railroad from its city limits. The tracks, originally planned to terminate at the Manhattan ferry, had to stop miles from the waterfront at the city line.

The council insisted that the locomotives, notorious for belching smoke and cinders through residential areas, were to be uncoupled from the railcars and hitched to teams of horses. The city further demanded the railroad use one track.

As expected, horse teams dragging railcars through congested urban streets wreaked havoc on the railroad's published schedules. When test runs suggested it would take an hour to reach the ferry from city limits, it became clear that these restrictions made the railroad slower than the all-water East River ferry between Flushing and Wall Street.

The all-Queens option to Hunters Point, by contrast, was more sensible. The railroad had only to persuade a few reluctant farmers in sparsely populated Woodside and Corona to give it the right of way. The all-Queens route to the East River was also cheaper to build because less track meant less cost.

The wisdom of the Hunters Point location was confirmed when the Long Island Rail Road built its Long Island terminal there six years later in 1861. Hunters Point shortly became the nucleus for Long Island City, which quickly rose to become both the Queens county seat, and, as the rail network's hub, the most important community on Long Island.

On Sept. 4, 1917, nearly a thousand young men from Long Island City took part in a draft parade along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. These men were Long Island City's first quota to make up the "first army of 500,000."

As they passed the reviewing stand at 42nd Street, a long cheer broke out. At the head of Long Island City's part of the parade walked the exemption board. These were the men who certified those most fit for Uncle Sam's service.

The same day, another 600 draftees from Maspeth, Woodside, Corona, Elmhurst, Forest Hills and Winfield marched through Newtown.

Fran Drescher, born Sept. 30, 1957, in Flushing, is perhaps the quintessential working class sassy Queens girl and defined by her signature accent.

Years later, she talked about growing up in Queens: "People lived in the same apartments for years. You'd meet a group of kids in kindergarten, and you'd still be with them in high school. No one ever left the neighborhood. It was a small provincial place with great people and I had a happy childhood growing up in Queens."

Francine Joy Drescher graduated from Hillcrest High School in the same class as actor Ray Romano and her future husband, producer Peter Marc Jacobson.

Although she was first runner-up in the Miss New York Teenager contest in 1973, she lied to talent agencies and told them she was the winner. It worked. Although she won bit parts, they were in unforgettable movies, like "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) with John Travolta.

Agents cautioned her by suggesting she would never make it in show business without dropping her nasal voice and thick New York accent. Drescher took lessons. She learned to speak "normally." Acting assignments disappeared. It seemed that the industry loved her because she spoke "funny."

After spending time with her friends, like 1960s model Twiggy and her children, Drescher came up with the idea for a television show: "The Nanny."

The show, and Drescher, became overnight sensations. She went on to other roles, like starring in the movie "The Beautician and the Beast" (1997), which she co-produced. She was ranked by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the late 1990s.

Drescher divorced her high school sweetheart, Jacobson, and is both a rape and cancer survivor.

Contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org. It is open to the public Saturdays noon to 5 p.m.

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